|by Wes George
Mac OS X: Gentle Migration Or Chaotic Diaspora?
September 18th, 2000
My Mac OS X Public Beta is in the Mail!
I bought my Mac OS X Beta for $29.95 at the Apple Store this weekend. It's pretty audacious though savvy of Apple to actually have the temerity to make people pay for the privilege of assisting the company identify the new system's bugs. Nevertheless, over 30,000 orders roared into the Apple Store for the public beta in the first 3 days. Btw, Apple's not the first company to charge for beta software. The beta-for-profit scheme is a rare Microsoft innovation pioneered with Windows 98. But Apple's bottom line doesn't depend on public beta sales, which include a glossy, full-color, meatworld manual shipped with each CD. How quaint it will be a definite collector's item in the paperless world of 2010.
Gentle Migration or Chaotic Diaspora?
This public beta is really a promotional maneuver rather than a traditional beta release designed merely to distribute the task of troubleshooting code among a broad base of professional developers. The plan is for the glory of Mac OS X to spontaneously ignite an army of grassroots evangelists who will proselytize the revolutionary OS to the more skeptical and slow-footed masses. It's phase one of what Apple calls the "Gentle Migration". It's a good idea assuming OS X Public Beta really works.
So I don't mind paying thirty bucks for an advance copy of the protected memory, preemptively multitasking holy grail we have all been waiting for since 1990. But I'm a bit miffed my purchase won't garner me even an exiguous discount on the OS X release 1.0 when it debuts next year. A "proof of purchase" is included with the shipment, so if enough of us whine, maybe Apple is prepared to change this penurious policy. On the other hand, as a shareholder, I'm pleased to see Apple showing some hard ball business acumen.
Note: Mac OS X Public Beta expires on May 15, 2001, at which time "you'll need a bootable Mac OS CD to gain access to the contents of your hard drive", according to Apple. The beta expiration boldly elevates May 15th as the very outside date for having Mac OS X 1.0 fully distributed.
I plan to load the public beta on a G4 just to see what OS X is all about. It's not my main Mac so if the beta causes trouble I'll be fully capable of getting work done without grinding to a halt. After all, the public beta isn't a finished product. For instance, there aren't any USB printer drivers out yet for the beta, but isn't an OS always a work in progress? Like a living language, an operating system doesn't stop evolving till its dead.
The new system requires 128 MB of RAM and, I heard through the grapevine, 1.5 GB of hard drive space. If you want to continue to run "classic applications" meaning just about every Mac program in existence you better be fully upgraded to Mac OS 9.04 before you install OS X beta.
Oddly, Apple never mentions in the Mac OS X documentation anything about the gargantuan amount of disk space the uber OS requires. Unix-based systems have always been disk hogs. But you'd think Apple would inform Mac users about this non-issue since many are probably unfamiliar with Unix or Linux operating systems and are likely to be shocked at the disk space requirements. Jeez, I hope I haven't blown an Apple trade secret or started a rumor. I hear that's a leg-breaking offense nowadays.
Some Groundless Speculation
OS X is presenting Apple geeks and shareholders with plenty of futuristic scenarios to toy with at a time when Apple's gestapo is demanding no one speculate about the company's top secret future. Whatever.
For instance, OS X's core (called Darwin) uses open source standards. OS X's BSD Unix and Mach 3.0 kernel suggest that at its foundation OS X can reside comfortably, if heretically, on non-Apple hardware. Of course, to get the top layers of the OS to work, Apple's proprietary hardware is absolutely necessary. Nevertheless, OS X does crack the door to all sorts of developmental and licensing possibilities that could ultimately lead to new markets once impossible even to consider with the classic Mac OS.
In fact, the horizon of opportunities available to Apple today hasn't been as vast since the glory days of 1984 when Apple's leadership made its fateful blunder not to license the Mac OS and thereby unwittingly handing Microsoft the world on a silver platter. I'm not suggesting that Apple license Mac OS X to other vendors, nor am I qualified to conduct more than a bar room debate in this complex area. Nevertheless, with Linux and Microsoft rushing to port their systems to anything you can bolt a CPU too, Apple might want to leverage some version of OS X beyond the traditional confines of the PC world. Now buy me a beer.
The conventional wisdom in Cupertino is that the company needs to remain firmly in control of both the OS and the hardware to avoid the nightmare Microsoft faces in its Herculean attempt to support thousands of configurations from hundreds of vendors. An even more direct explanation is that Apple makes most of its money selling hardware, therefore clones would kill Apple's business model. But PC clones aren't the right paradigm for 2001. The frontier for operating systems lies in the unexplored continents of handhelds, dashboards, wireless thingamabobs, even refrigerators and whole house control systems.
Apple's monopoly over the entire Mac platform, both hard and soft, is said to be one of the principle reasons Apple can deliver the best user experience in the PC world. That may be so, but Apple's centralized and closed-ended corporate culture hasn't come without a price. Cupertino's Kremlin mentality inadvertently manifests itself in the company's embarrassingly futile attempts to orchestrate circumstance down to the last rumor.
In the emerging globally networked, peer-to-peer economy, Apple's vertically stacked, go-it-alone business model is become increasingly medieval. Apple is an incredibly talented widget manufacturer, but OS X gives the company an opportunity to rise above a Monty Pythonesque fate. In a future that will be dominated by fractal relationships and an economy of ideas a future where the very definition of property is being reevaluated for the first time in centuries Apple better be open to some creative destruction or face the same order of humiliation it did back in 1984.
Microsoft embraced a decentralized and chaos-tolerant distribution system that proved better adapted to the extemporaneous way technology adoption really works. (Microsoft is going to have to evolve again or go extinct, but that's whole other bag of worms.) The question is: Can Apple open up to take advantage of emerging opportunities presented by the first truly modern hybrid OS in the world and not lose focus?
Mac OS X opens strange doors leading to markets the company was forced to abandon during its years of decline. Apple is once again in a long-term growth pattern thanks to brilliant hardware innovations and now OS X promises to extend that spiral of growth into new areas.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is setting the stage for Windows to run everything from your refrigerator and your TV to your whole house. Linux, as an open source OS, has advantages over Windows when attempting to network unrelated devices, since freely shared code lends transparency to technologies impossible to achieve with secretive proprietary recipes.
OS X is a hybrid pentacle of light rising between the two dark worlds of Windows and Linux. By offering the best of both worlds while minimizing the worst of both, OS X has an outstanding chance of becoming a significant competitor. It's hard to overestimate OS X's potential for catapulting Apple's market share well beyond anything that a rational observer could, in good mental health, claim is possible today. Thanks for the beer, next round is on me.
For the next few months Mac OS X should be the talk of the Mac Web, that is, if Apple can restrain its penchant for generating unnecessary and off topic negative energy. The early comments from people just now experiencing OS X for the first time are mostly positive. Many are ecstatic. Nevertheless, there does seem to be a strain of digital age Luddism ready to reject OS X sight unseen. I suppose every age is plagued by those who value stasis for its own sake.
G4 Cube Update
Unconfirmed reports hint that Cube sales are soaring well beyond the expectation of naysayers, including some right here at the Mac Observer. (Note to Apple's Chief Censor: A list of my sources has been duly filed with Apple's Department of Information Control.)
You shouldn't be surprised the Cube is selling better than expected. Predictions of the Cube's rapid demise came from the same class of techno geek pundits who dissed the iMac for months after its introduction. Even after the iMac phenomenon rose to the status of a proven paradigm buster, a few die hards still claimed it was only a passing fad. They didn't get it then and they still don't get it today. The G4 Cube is simply the most elegant desktop PC solution on the planet. Period. That alone guarantees the Cube's success, if only with the growing minority of users discerning enough to notice and care.
Meanwhile, Apple's new G4 Cube commercial, as spotted on CNN, really rocks out. The commercial uses the Hendrix anthem Purple Haze to make a statement about...what? Silence? It doesn't really work for me. As one Raging Bull AAPL board poster noted, Enjoy the Silence by Depeche Mode would be a more appropriate tune for the Cube commercial than the cacophonous Purple Haze. The quick shot at the end of the commercial showing the Cube with a gorgeous Apple flat panel monitor and those funkadelic Harman/Kardon speakers is awesomely futuristic and should be extended.
And when is Chiat/Day going to move beyond juxtaposing classic rock themes (it's sentimental, balding, white guy music) with computers that look like they could come from an advanced alien civilization? Is that Apple's target audience? Think postmodern, dudes, like Air, Kruder Dorfmeister, The American Analog Set or United Future Organization, Komeda, Alpha, Portishead, Brian Eno or even Papa Roach.
Well, now that I have foolishly Speculated over a few beers it's back to my stake-out at the mail box waiting for Mr. FedEx to arrive with the dream OS. See ya next week.
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Wes George writes about the financial side of being a Mac nut. Wes has followed Apple's finances for the last 7 years and comes to The Mac Observer every Monday to tell all about his opinions. He is, in his own words, "inordinately fond of money." If you would like to write Wes, make it nice. Someday you might own a company that has something to do with Apple, and Wes will probably still be writing for The Mac Observer...... On the other hand, Mr. George is known to love a rousing, hair-raising debate, so send him your worst!
Disclaimer: This column is for informational and entertainment purposes. While Mr. George may be sage indeed, his writings can not be construed as a solicitation to buy, nor an offering to sell any particular stock. As with any trading in the financial markets, you must use your own judgment to make the best trades that you can. Neither The Mac Observer nor Wes George may be held accountable for trading advice.